31 August 2009

Reader question: What color appliances go with a copper sink?

Help! I read your blog all the time but I never wrote to you before. I like that you tell people what's on your mind. I can take it. My partner and I are building a new home and we would LOVE to have a copper sink. What I can't figure out is what color of appliances I should get to coordinate. The cabinets will have a darker maple finish. Please advise.
Well good, I'm glad you been on this site before and I'll do what I can. The easy answer to your question is that you should get the color appliances you like. There's no rule that says metal finishes have to match. In fact I say they look better when they don't.

Everybody you talk to will have a different take on this, but you wrote to me and here's what I say. Working a copper sink into a kitchen design involves more than appliance colors. Don't get me wrong; a well-made copper sink is a lovely, lovely thing. It's just that they're not very subtle --they are a scene stealer so it's best to let it be the focal point of your kitchen.

It sounds like you haven't selected the actual sink yet, so look for an apron front sink like the ones I'm picturing along with this post. Get a natural-looking patina on the sink you buy. There are all sorts of wild patinas you can get on a copper sink, but go basic and classic. Get stainless appliances, stainless steel is a classical finish in a kitchen and it's also a neutral. In going with stainless appliances, you now have two metal finishes in this kitchen, so keep going. Find a third and use it for your fixtures. Most manufacturers' oil-rubbed bronze finishes have a lot of copper color in them, so an oil-rubbed bronze faucet will work perfectly.

When you go to look at knobs and handles you'll now have three metal finishes to choose from, but hardware that comes close to the oil-rubbed bronze finish of the faucet will be the easiest to find. That doesn't mean that you can't use the color of the steel or the color of the copper when it comes time to picking hardware. What's important is that what you're doing make some kind of sense, it should tell a coherent story.

Long story short? Let your copper sink have center stage and get stainless appliances.

29 August 2009

Local Recycled Glass And More.

About two weeks ago, I posted about some companies I found that create tile out of recycled glass. That post was only part of the story - the search for recycled glass products ultimately led me to look around my home state and home town for locally sourced recycled glass products. The emphasis on recycled or "green" products should also include considerations on using local materials and local businesses as a way of cutting the necessity of shipping and packaging, as well as keeping money in the local economy.

The first company I came across that featured many kinds of recycled products was Coverings Etc based in Miami. They carry several materials that utilized recycled or cast-off components including their Bio-Glass which is pictured above. The customer service at Coverings Etc was top-notch over the phone and they quickly followed up with detailed information about several of their products (thanks Jennifer!).

Probably the most unusual material they feature though is a recycled aluminum tile that is made from old aircraft body panels called Bio-luminum. The tiles are made by remelting the old aluminum, casting a block, and then cutting it into tile. Coverings Etc describes their aluminum tile as having "a very distinct, almost industrial aesthetic", and I could not agree more. It does not have the warmth and three dimensional quality of their Bio-Glass but I love the striations on the surface of the tiles from the cutting process and its subdued metallic luster

The Bio-Glass really intrigued me so I headed down to Indigo, the local green building supply here in Gainesville. They carry a large stock of samples that you can handle and drool after, plus the owner and staff warmly welcome you and whatever questions you might bring. We are extremely lucky to have a resource like Indigo in our community.

Liberty, the owner of Indigo, also referred me to a local concrete specialist whose work amazed me. His name is James Catabia, and owns a local concrete countertop business called Casting Impressions. James gave me a thorough interview when I called him on a Friday afternoon while his latest project was curing.

He custom colors his concrete to whatever shade you need, mixes and pours exactly to minimize waste, and locally sources his raw materials. He can produce terrazo utilizing recycled glass, as seen below.

His drive to create custom colors and commitment to local sourcing matches his earnest customer service nicely. James told me that if people in other areas were looking for a local concrete specialist, they can find one easily at the concretenetwork.com. Hopefully, the services listed on there in other areas produce the same high quality work found with Casting Impressions.

Apartment Therapy makes my head hurt

It's Saturday and I'm feelin' the need to pontificate.

Against my better judgement, I logged onto that doggone Apartment Therapy the other day. I have no excuse other than I was looking to read something inane, and what better place for a fix of inanity than AT?

I found this:
Over the weekend we read about some recent studies showing that plant essential oils from common herbs—specifically rosemary, thyme, clove, and mint—can be effective as natural pesticides. Apparently just a few drops of the plant oils mixed with water can repel or kill destructive aphids and mites. This seems like great news for those trying to grow veggies and fruit at home without the use of harmful chemicals...
Uhhhhhh, the plant extracts mentioned here; rosemary, thyme, clove and mint, are most definitely harmful chemicals. If they weren't harmful chemicals, they wouldn't kill aphids and mites.

All plants are engaged in an arms race with the creatures that eat them. Plants defend themselves the only way they can, they evolve chemical defenses. Some of these defenses are aimed at a specific predator and some defenses are more broad spectrum. Human beings aren't usually the intended target in this arms race, and as a species we reap some really tasty rewards. So even though I happen to love the taste of rosemary, thyme, cloves and mint (to maintain the theme of the AT pablum I quoted above), I never forget that the taste I'm so drawn to in these plants is essentially a pesticide. I'm not the intended target, but if I eat enough rosemary it'll make me as sick as a single bite of rosemary does a katydid or an aphid. Rosemary's taste comes from a chemical made by the plant to act as a pesticide, and rosemary's certainly not alone in this. These foods and flavors aren't bad and I'm not saying that you shouldn't eat cilantro or mustard greens any more. Toxicity is a matter of dose. Period. A toxic dose of cyanide is surprisingly small. A toxic dose of water is significantly higher, but it's still a toxic dose.

The following is an excerpt from a lecture given by Richard A. Muller, a professor at the University of California at Berkley. He makes some great, though counterintuitve points about this whole natural/ unnatural division. I LOVE this kind of stuff.

Life is rarely, if ever, an either/or proposition. Divisions between natural and unnatural are arbitrarily drawn. Natural is a meaningless label applied by marketing departments. The current vogue for "organic" foods may have standards behind that label (for the time being at least), but it too is an arbitrary line in the sand.

Have you ever noticed that the bug spray Raid smells like chrysanthemums? It does because its active ingredient is pyrethrin. That's chrysanthemum extract. So what's the difference between spraying Raid on a tomato plant and growing a chrysanthemum next to the same plant? One may make you feel better but at the end of the day, there's no real difference.

I say it all the time, science is your friend folks.

28 August 2009

You'll never think of glass tile the same way again

The other day I received a link from the great Laura Aiken and her linked directed me to Tom and Saundra Synder's Designer Glass Mosaics. Tom and Saundra have a Charlotte, NC- based glass studio and together, they produce commissioned glass work work like nothing I have ever seen.

The Snyders do a lot with fused glass. Fused glass is the technique of layering cut and powdered glass and then putting it into a kiln so the layers can melt and fuse together. The result is a glass with dimension and intense color saturation. Many of their pieces take on the feel and depth of a carved relief.

I've seen fused glass used in art pieces, but the Syders are pioneering a whole new direction in fused glass. They make tile with it for starters and they also make mosaics using these fused glass tiles. Their work is arrestingly distinctive. Their floral and scenic mosaics take on an impressionist air without stooping to mimicry. This is clearly 21st century art and the point of view is definitely the Snyders.

On first glance, this back splash appears to be a painting.

But up close you can see how it's made. It's remarkable. These works are the product of two minds of rare vision and skill. This has been made in sections, panels the Snyders call them, and then fit together on site and then grouted into place.

These poppies just jump off the wall here.

The way that the glass has been layered and melted makes it appear to have been painted with a brush.

Believe it or not, this is a curved, glass tile wall. These individual tiles come together to make this mural and the key word is that they are individual tiles. Each piece has a job to do as they come together to make up these dogwood blossoms.

These dogwood blossoms also show off the relief possible with their technique. Keep in mind that these are installed as individual tiles, this not a wall with a relief applied to it.

The detail shot above shows the individual pieces of the wall more clearly than the panoramic photo. Notice the variation of the flowers.

This is an individual accent tile. I swear, that water seems to be moving.

And here's a cluster of four, smaller accent tiles. Fantastic!

The Snyders make fused glass panels, mosaic tile, furniture, lighting, fine art and vases. The vases are Tom's handiwork primarily and they are made from thousands of individual mosaic tiles. Tom's a mathematician and the math embodied in his vases proves my theory that art and science (or math in this case) aren't in opposition at all. In fact, I say they're the same thing.

I am in awe of the mind that figured out how to make these. Think about it, these are squares and rectangles that wrap and interlock perfectly over a curving shape. When the curve widens, the pieces have to get larger. When the curve narrows, so do the tiles. Pulling this off in a solid color would be daunting enough. Using a complex pattern and then executing it perfectly is awe inspiring. Wow Tom. Wow.

The Snyders' website, Designer Glass Mosaics is filled with wonders beyond what I'm showing you here. Please go over there and look around. You'll be amazed.

27 August 2009

Sitting on top of the world

I called on a new client yesterday, a couple who were moving from London to a retirement community in Clearwater, FL. This is kind of unusual in these modern times. Through the second half of the 20th century, Florida was THE place to retire. The climate was perfect and life was cheap.

Well, the climate's still perfect, but life here is anything but cheap. 15 years ago, the cost of living in Florida caught up with the costs in rest of the country. 10 years ago it surpassed most of the country. Florida's no longer the retirement haven it once was and the demographics have shifted dramatically.

My potential clients this morning are moving into a vestige of Florida's heyday as a retirement Mecca. It's a 6,000-resident complex called On Top of The World. The place has to be seen to be believed, I cannot imagine that anything similar exists anywhere else on earth. For the life of me I can't find any information on who built it or why, and though I've only been in the complex once or twice, the place haunts me.

Not in a bad way, but the entire complex is such a kitschy throwback I have a hard time believing that it's not a tourist attraction. The idea of the place is that it's intended to be a trip around the world circa 1955. The developers took barracks-like, three story, cinder block apartment buildings and added a a different, "international" facade to each one. Each building is more fantastic than the last and what absolutely kills me is that the ideas conjured by the facades are those of a middle America with no interest in seeing the actual countries involved. It's a World's Fair as imagined by Edith Bunker. I can't get enough of the place. From everything I see and hear, the place is a welcoming, vibrant community and frankly, the architecture has to keep people in a good mood.

This is a satellite photo of the whole complex.

And here's the main entrance. It's like Epcot Center meets Versailles for lunch in Athens.

What follows are some Realtor photographs I scrounged up. Can you tell? Ugh. I will go back to On Top of the World on a photo safari one of these days. Somebody has to document this place. So excuse the lousy photography and join me in a trip around the world...

The Viennese Villa

The Royal Dutch

Roman Byzantine


Modern Age



English Tudor

Emerald Isle


Corinthian Kabal


Bavarian Chalet



American Gothic

Astounding. It's astounding. Every square foot of the place is a-stounding.

Bahamian bird Thursday

I need to look at something interesting today. This is Saurothera merlini bahamensis, the Lizard Cuckoo. At 54cm (more than 20 inches!), it's the largest member of the cuckoo family. The species Saurothera merlini is found only in Cuba (where there are three subspecies) and on three islands in The Bahamas. The bahamensis subspecies is the version of this bird found on Cat Island, Eleuthera and New Providence. It's an uncommon bird and I count myself among the lucky few who have watched this bird do its thing.

Most cuckoos hijack the nests of other birds. A female cuckoo finds a nest with eggs in it, gets rid of the eggs it finds and then lays her own in an amazing act of inter-species switcheroo and piracy. The host bird sees eggs in its nest when it returns and then proceeds as if nothing happened. It's a pretty amazing behavior. However, the Lizard Cuckoo is unique for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is its abstention from this switcheroo behavior. S. merlini bahamensis actually builds its own nest and raises its own young. That might have something to do with the size of this bird. I'd imagine disguising a 15-inch long fledgling is a pretty hard sell.

These birds hunt for lizards (hence the common name) and large insects in the underbrush. They are surprisingly agile and can run along the ground when the need arises. Trust me when I tell you that they have a call that can wake the dead.

26 August 2009

This Labor Day, keep yourself healthy by keeping your pool healthy

After my post from 23 July, Don't try this at home, I got embroiled in a bit of a dust up with a bunch of fuzzy-thinking folk who honestly believe it's some kind of a noble and healthy thing to provide your kids with an unchlorinated pool. By the end of it, I'd been accused of everything from being a shill for the "Chemical Industry," whatever that is, to being a Republican. Whatever. Anyhow, the bright side of that experience was my exposure to a website called Healthy Pools.

Healthy Pools is dedicated to the safe and healthy enjoyment of pools and spas the the public outreach they do is a tremendous public service.

The following is a list of myths and facts that came from Healthy Pool's website.

I can’t get sick from swimming in a pool.

Swimming is a fun and healthy activity. However, swallowing, breathing, or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools can spread illnesses. In fact, the number of outbreaks associated with swimming has increased over the past decade.

Clear pool water means clean pool water.

Microorganisms can be present even in pools that appear clean. What you smell, feel, and hear can help you sense whether you’re swimming in a healthy pool.

All germs that can cause illness are immediately killed by standard pool cleaning chemicals, such as chlorine.

Chlorine kills germs that can cause illness in pool water; but it takes time. While chlorine eliminates most within minutes, some germs such as Cryptosporidium can survive in a properly treated pool for days.

When I smell the strong odor of pool chemicals, it means the swimming pool water is very clean.

The heavy chemical odor is not from chlorine. It means that unhealthy chloramines have formed in the water, created from the mix of chlorine and contaminants. Chloramines are not as effective in disinfecting swimming pool water. A well-maintained pool has little odor.

When I get red eyes while swimming, it means there is too much chlorine in the water.

Red eyes and itchy skin are usually caused by improper pH or high chloramine levels. Surprisingly, the pool may actually need additional chlorine treatment to get rid of chloramines and sanitize the water.

I only need to shower before going into the pool if I haven’t bathed that day.

All swimmers should shower before entering the pool. Perspiration, body oil, urine, and other waste are with us at all times. Without showering, it all comes with us when we go swimming.

As long as a child is wearing a diaper in the pool, there’s no chance for a contamination of the water.

“Accidents” from diapered children pose a risk of contamination. To minimize this risk, parents must wash children thoroughly, front and back, with soap and water, and make sure a clean, form-fitting “swim diaper” is worn by the child at all times. Just remember that swim diapers are not leak proof

Keeping a swimming pool clean and healthy is the lifeguard’s and pool manager’s responsibility.

Employees help keep pools clean, but they cannot be your only defense. Each one of us has a responsibility to follow good public health practices, stay alert for unhealthy conditions, and report problems when they occur.

Thank you Healthy Pools!